Thursday, August 8, 2013

Where is Anton Chigurh?

I love No Country For Old Men. It’s one of my favorite films from the past decade, one of the best flicks of the Coen brothers’ filmography, and genuinely one of the finest, most tightly realized crime thrillers ever made. But like most all things I love, there are profound complexities about the film that I cannot explain. Well, not complexities, exactly. More like a complexity.

Note: Before we go further, know that I am going to spoil essential elements to the thickly layered plot of this film. In short, if you haven’t seen No Country For Old Men, skip this post and Go. Watch. It. Now.


The scene occurs somewhat late in the film, moments after Tommy Lee Jones’ character, Ed Tom Bell, has shown up a few seconds too late to a motel gunfight that left Josh Brolin’s Llewelyn Moss dead. Bell identifies Moss’ body at the morgue, and then has a cup of coffee with a local Sherriff. As Bell and the Sherriff part ways, the Sherriff speaks of the audacity of Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem). About how Chigurh killed a desk clerk at the Eagle Hotel one night, then went back to the same hotel and killed Woody Harrelson’s character the following night. “Just strolls right back into a crime scene,” the Sherriff says.

And then Bell thinks. He thinks, and, like Chigurh, he returns to the scene of a crime. Bell slowly makes his way to the motel where he discovered Moss’ body, fearing that Chigurh could be there, waiting.

Before I attempt to dissect the scene, spend three minutes watching it here:



So, my question is: where is Anton Chigurh? On a very basic surface level, the editing of the scene would indicate that Chigurh is standing right behind the door. Bell sees movement in the empty lock hole that Chigurh has recently shot out, and Chigurh sees movement in the same hole as well. But, obviously, when Bell opens the door, Chigurh is nowhere to be found.

So where is he?

The best resource I could find to lend explanation to this scene is on IMDb’s FAQ page, in which someone has gone to great lengths to shed light on the sequence. (Read it here if you’d like.) 

Essentially, the IMDb explanation posits four theories, which I’d like to flesh out.

Theory 1: Chigurh is in the room and secretly escapes
When Bell stands outside the room, the cut to Chigurh makes it seem as though he is standing directly behind the door. But when Bell swings the door open, the door clearly hits the wall, not Anton Chigurh. But maybe Chigurh moved to hide behind or even under a bed, and when Bell goes to inspect the bathroom, Chigurh slips out of the room undetected.

Plausibility of Theory 1: Unlikely
As the IMDb thread documents, the reflection of the yellow crime scene tape can be seen on the far wall when Bell enters the room (the reflection cuts through the top of the framed picture):
When Bell exits the bathroom, the reflection of the tape is gone, suggesting that Chigurh left the room in a hurry and broke the tape on his way out (no reflection on the top of the framed picture):
But in the next shot, the reflection of the crime scene tape is back, so this, I think, can be written off as a continuity error (the reflection of the tape is directly above the TV):
Plus, I’m not entirely sure Chigurh would spare anyone’s life at this point, including a Sheriff investigating a crime far out of his jurisdiction.

Theory 2: Chigurh is in the adjacent room
When Bell arrives at the hotel, notice that the crime scene tape covers both room 114 (where Moss was killed) and room 112. It is unclear if Chigurh shot out the lock for room 112 as he did for room 114, but, according to this theory, the scene is nothing more than tricky editing. We assume Chigurh is in room 114, but is actually waiting patiently in room 112.

Plausibility of Theory 2: Somewhat likely
Given the gimmick of Moss renting out two rooms earlier in the film, it’s likely that Chigurh could be staking out the adjacent room. But Chigurh has clearly retrieved the $2 million Moss was hiding in a wall vent in room 114, so why bother hanging around in the next room at all?

Theory 3: Chigurh was in the room but has already left
This theory relies on two things: tricky editing, and lazy showmanship. The technique of editing two scenes at the same location (that occur at different times) is common, especially in action and horror films. You see a girl standing in her bedroom, then cut to a killer walking up the stairs toward the bedroom. Cut to the girl in the bedroom, cut to the killer walking. Girl. Killer. Killer opens the door and BAM, the girl is gone, because she was actually there earlier.

Plausibility of Theory 3: Improbable
My main problem with this theory is that it relies on a showy technique that is not implored anywhere else in the film. To use it now, for this one scene, just seems lazy. Besides, if this theory is true, why does Chigurh have the look on his face like he hears someone outside of the room and is likely going to have to kill them?

Theory 4: Chigurh is a manifestation of Ed Tom’s fear
Basically, Bell is imagining that Chigurh could be in the room. This scene represents the first and only time we see Bell scared in the film. From his opening monologue, we gather that Bell protects a town that has modest crime. Hell, he even talks about prior law enforcement officers who didn’t even carry a gun. But this series of crimes are different, and Bell is fucking spooked. So maybe Bell’s vision of Chigurh is a representation of the worst that could be waiting for Bell.

Plausibility of Theory 4: Most likely, but with holes
For one, Bell has no idea what Chigurh looks like, so how could he envision an exact replica of Chigurh? And secondly, like Theory 3, if Theory 4 were true, it would be the only time this narrative device (fear as an imaginary object) is used in the film. Which is fine, I suppose. Movies do that all time, but it just feels off to me, in this particular film.

How It is in the Book
In Cormac McCarthy’s brilliant source novel, Chigurh hides in a car in the motel parking lot as Bell arrives and examines the room. Chigurh watches Bell intently, until the Sherriff drives off. But Bell knows better. He knows that someone could be waiting for him in the parking lot, so he goes across the street and stakes the parking lot out. He calls for backup and when it arrives, they all search the parking lot together. Chigurh is nowhere to be found. So, again, where did he go?

Final Thought
My final thought is based on the fact that I always have and always will consider No Country for Old Men a masterful film. This scene in no way ruins the film for me, because, in a way, it represents what the title of the movie refers to. This crime is new for Ed Tom Bell. He’s an old timer living a modest life protecting a small town. He isn’t built for this kind of action. He’s afraid. And while he’s willing to confront his fear head on, he knows that his fear will likely never have a face.



But enough about what I think, what do YOU think Anton Chigurh is in this scene?

103 comments:

  1. Holy crap, I never really gave this scene much thought, but it is terrifying. A very disturbing unanswered question that only heightens the sickening unease of the film. Fuck I love it.

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    1. That's kind of feeling I walk away with as well. Even if it may not be able to be fully explained, it's still fucking brilliant.

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  2. I've always thought of it as theory 4: it's just the sheriff imagining Chigurh being in the room. I never thought about it being his fear tho; more just what he was generally imagining would be in the room. I also think it shows Chigurh was probably held up in a room all night, imaging the sheriff coming for him right outside the door. I don't think this theory is ruined by the fact the Sheriff doesn't know what Chigurh looks like, or how else would the Coens have communicated this to the audience?

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    1. As to your final sentence, I think the scene would work just as well without the two cutaway shots to Chigurh standing behind the door. Just to see Bell's mortified face would be enough. But, like I said, this is in NO WAY a fault of the film. It's still remarkable.

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    2. chigurh could be holding the shotgun without the suppressor attached. we know that chigurh would never use the shotgun in this fashion. also, we could maybe assume that bell has knowledge of some or all of crime scenes involving chigurh using his shotgun. bell could know that could be the gun waiting for him, but theres nothing that could have told him chicgurh been using a suppressor, leaving that detail out of his imagination

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  3. The first step in understanding this scene is to notice Chigurh's stilted speak patterns throughout the film, as well as his inhuman strength, and his apparent disregard for typical crime convention (like never returning to the scene of the crime). Now notice the last shot before the dissolve. This is an indication of how Chigurh escaped the room. Due to the attributes listed above, he is most likely an Annunaki, an ancient Babylonian lizard of olde, beings who can shape shift in order to deceive their prey. So Chigurh simply shape shifted into a creature small enough to fit inside the vent, and absconded. This theory is only confirmed by his ability to shrug off a car crash late in the film.

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    1. I don't even know how to begin to respond to this, except to agree with Evan, and simply offer a "Yes."

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    2. Yes, also Jeff and Walter were using the exact same ability during the bowling competitions. But then Donnie discovered the truth. Afterwards, they hired a group of nihilists...

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  4. Shit, that was incredible. That scene is definitely one of the key moments of the film as it plays to the fact that Bell is a man out of time. He's in a new world where things are far more complicated and he has no idea what to do or who he's facing. The rules are definitely different and Chigurh is unlike anyone out there. Yet, I think Chigurh knows that Bell is a very different foe and someone who is more likely to go toe-to-toe with him and actually stands for something. I think I'd go with the second theory. I don't know. I need to re-watch this film when it comes back on the TV.

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    1. Tough call to pick a theory for certain, but I agree with everything you said. Two men who are very different and will do anything to get what they want. I could watch this scene over and over.

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  5. Fantastic post! The scene of Bell walking through the room had me on the edge of my seat. I was expecting him to get shot. I guess I always assumed #2, but now that you present all these options, I'll have to watch it again.

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    1. Thanks! It feels like everytime I watch this movie, I walk away with a different interpretation of this scene.

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  6. What's the moment when unstoppable force meets an immovable object, Alex? Hint: there's only one scene

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    1. I see my post has brought out the philosophical anonymous comments...

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  7. After Inception, Nolan was repeatedly asked about the spinning top. Only answer he ever gave to it was - If I wanted you to know it, you would've seen it on the screen. I don't think Coens are any different. :)

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    1. Ahh, I can roll with that to a point, but that justification only goes so far. With Inception, the spinning top means one of two things: that he's either awake or dreaming. This scene in No County could mean MANY different things, you know? I'm all about ambiguity, but there's more going on in this scene.

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    2. I respectfully disagree. I always assumed he meant how efficient and undetectable he was as a contract killer.

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    3. Sorry, wrong comment.

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  8. Woah. Never thought about this in so much detail, but I guess I'd be more in line with #1 or #4. Of course, there seems to be something slightly supernatural about Chigurh, so I'm willing to roll with it. :)

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    1. Yeah there certainly is something supernatural about him. DIrectly before this scene, Tommy Lee Jones calls him a ghost. So that is pretty fitting.

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    2. I respectfully disagree. I always assumed he meant how efficient and undetectable he was as a contract killer.

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    3. Well, yeah... I don't mean in a literal sense. But it is an interesting word choice.

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    4. A few interpretations. Well then, what's your preferable theory?

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    5. Of the scene in general? I honestly don't know, I guess that's why I wrote this post. When I first saw the film, I assumed #2, but the more I watch the movie, the more I disagree with that. So I think I'd go with a variation of #4.

      You?

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  9. I've held to #2 ever since my first viewing, but the others all have their merits (and there's certainly not enough information to lock any one interpretation in as "correct"). My personal reason for liking #2? It fits perfectly with Chigurh's modus operandi throughout the film: specifically, his coin flips. If Chigurh's in one room and Bell picks the other ... well, the coin landed on the right side for Bell.

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    1. I love your reasoning behind theory number 2. That certainly does fit his MO. And yeah, I definitely agree that no theory is "correct" by any means. Just fun to speculate.

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  10. Such a great question. What I truly wish is that I could recall precisely what I thought when I saw the scene for the first time in the theater. For the life of me, I can't remember, though if I had to guess I probably was thinking #3. But you're case against it makes complete sense.

    I honestly don't know that I have an answer, but I would also argue that I really don't think it's #1 or #2. What the Coens were going for in this film was just too esoteric for it to be explained away on those terms. That's my feeling, anyway.

    I'll bet the Coens know. I'll also bet they never tell.

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    1. I think, the first time I saw it, I assumed #2, that he was in the next room. But it's a scene that has always perplexed me, in the best possible way. I bet they know as well, and I actually hope they never tell.

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  11. I once picked up the notion that Ed Tom Bell is actually Anton. Watched the film afterwards again and there are a lot of things pointing in that direction (it's a while back, but for instance both drinking milk in a certain scene and ed tom drinking out of the same glass...almost looking sly to make sure that the glass was used by him (and couldn't be fingerprinted), this scene where he is confronted with his own shadow, the way Brolin's wife recognizes him in her confrontation with Anton....and even just the names: Ed Tom and Anton.

    Is it logical. Well no, but in a certain Coen-esque way it is in there. It's a bit like I now look at Barton Fink. Always liked it, but wasn't really sure why. We once had to analyze the sound of that movie for a class and you start to look at it completely differently. As in: the hotel is symbolic for hell. The hell hole where the John Torturro-character finds himself after selling out to Hollywood

    Anyhow...the Barton Fink is a bit of a sidetrack, but if you ever watch it again, try looking at it with this on your mind and I'm curious how you'll find it.

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    1. Wow, love this introspection. I've definitely always felt that the similarities between Ed Tom and Anton were ingenious and purposefully done by McCarthy, but I love how you dove even deeper into it. Also love the connection to Barton Fink. That film reveals more to me with every passing viewing.

      Thanks so much for stopping by and commenting!

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    2. Wow.
      Your topic has gone into some detail. I've always been puzzled about this scene. Basically after seeing the film for the 200th time I'd have to go with number 4.

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    3. Ha. Thanks! I've seen the movie so many times as well, and I think 4 is my pick as well. I suppose we'll never really know for sure.

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  12. Let me just say I just stumbled upon your blog here, and I absolutely love it! Now to the topic at hand, when I watched the film the first time I had no idea why Anton didn't just kill him then and there. But on repeated viewings, I started to think it was all in Bell's head. He has been following Anton for a number of days now and seen all the horrific things he has done (recently). In my mind Bell is imagining Anton inside the room waiting for him, which is why he pulls his gun out now and didn't before. Which is like Theory 4 in the essay. Now about the holes in that theory, yes Bell has no idea what Anton looks like, but it would be an easy way for the Coen brothers to show that Bell is scared and that he thinks Anton is in the room. If they had just shown a shadow to show that Bell is thinking or something, then it would mean basically that someone was in the room. Ultimately with a shadow or some other way to hide or mask Anton so it makes sure Bell doesn't know what he looks like wouldn't have been as effective and probably would have ended up being more confusing. Anyway great job, I really enjoyed this piece and I am really enjoying your blog, that was just my take on this scene from the film.

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    1. Hey Geordan, thanks so much for stopping by and commenting. Your kind words really mean a lot to me. So thanks!

      I think Theory 4 is the most plausible as well. I liked how you fleshed out the holes in the theory too. Before writing this post, I didn't really know what to think. But in writing it, number 4 seemed to make the most sense. But, again, I love that the Coens didn't spell it all out for us.

      Thanks again for stopping by!

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  13. This post is what made me fall in love with your blog. Thank you!

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    1. Oh wow, thanks so much! Really appreciate you stopping by and saying that.

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  14. Here's an add-on to Theory #2 that makes it a little more complicated, but also more plausible (i.e., an explanation for "why hang around in room #112, if he'd already snagged the money"):

    Chigurgh goes into #114, opens the vent and realizes that the money has been pushed through to other side to where it's more easily reached from room #112 (similar to Moss' tentpole trick in the previous hotel). So he then breaks into room #112 and snags it from there. Just happens that he's still there when Ed Tom Bell arrives.


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    1. Definitely a plausible theory. It's still difficult for me to decide which one I most believe. Either 2 or 4. Tough call. Thanks so much for stopping by and commenting!

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    2. Yeah, 4 could work in another movie, but they went through the trouble of showing Ed Tom's reflection in the keyhole, which would be unnecessary for Theory #4. This movie uses perspective to show what the characters actually see, similar to movies like Chinatown (earlier, you see a zoomed-in view of the plains after Llewellyn Moss puts on his binoculars); why depart from it now?

      Thanks for this blog post! This movie and this scene stay on my mind.


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    3. Great points all around, and I love how you drew from similarities to Chinatown. Great call there.

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    4. Check it out from the earlier scene in the first hotel:
      http://oi58.tinypic.com/30vem0y.jpg
      http://oi61.tinypic.com/fa4mmw.jpg
      http://oi57.tinypic.com/2n0r2q9.jpg

      Anton clearly took note of Llewellyn's two-room vent trick the first time. I'm feeling stronger about Theory #2.

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    5. Yeah, I think I'm with you here. Okay I have another question: why do you think the Coens deviated from the book for this scene? Their script is so insanely accurate to McCarthy's text, so why stray here? Really curious what you think.

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    6. My opinion is that in the short time span we have to flesh out this confrontation in a movie, close proximity is necessary to create the right tension. In a book, the author can develop the scene over as many pages as necessary to make 50 feet seem like five.

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    7. After reading the book today, I see that hardly any space was devoted to Chigurh's presence in the parking lot. The movie makes it way more intense and personal than was intended. Interesting the deviation. Many other deviations in scene depictions as well. I'm especially surprised that the whole situation with the girl at the swimming pool instead of being a hitchhiker. Changes the entire dynamic of the ending and finally explains to me why the ground was littered with shell casings next to the pool where Llewelyn was standing. It's like the Coens needed about 15-20 more minutes of screen time.

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    8. Brooklyn's Finest, I think these screenshots debunk Theory #2 because the vent is in the wall facing AWAY from Room 112, not towards it:


      Bell sitting on the bed:
      http://i.imgur.com/4KzDPpy.png

      Bell looking to his left at the wall away from 112:
      http://i.imgur.com/kcmYvur.png

      Then the vent, which also shows that a briefcase would not be able to fit through the small hole either way:
      http://i.imgur.com/d0u86uH.png

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  15. Thanks! Haven't read the book yet (will soon), but I read your description of the book scene above. I just assume the Coens tried it this way and that, and thought this worked better visually; not sure why though. I will say that this scene does fit in with the minimalist, zero-dialogue feel of some of the other great scenes in the movie. Also, Ed Tom looking in the TV screen was a nice callback to the previous scene in Llewellyn's trailer where he had also just missed Chigurh.

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    1. I LOVE that looking-in-the-TV scene. Really adds to the overall connectedness of the characters in the film. Ed Tom can just feel that this guy was there.

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  16. I thought that Chigurh was in the motel when Ed Tom is & as Ed senses it he decides to back away given his fear of a caliber of criminal he is too outdated to handle.

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    1. But that's a small hotel room. Wouldn't Ed Tom see him?

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    2. Yeah that's the point he sees him, notices him, feels his presence and this triggers to walk away from the new breed of crime that he isn't cut out to battle.

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    3. Hmm, interesting. I love that the scene can provoke so many different theories.

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  17. Ed Tom is Anton --- > Split personality. Ed Tom begins the film wondering how his forefathers would've handled things. As the film goes on we know he's referring to the impossible task of enforcing law in drug crazed country of Cartels. 1. He never wants to go out to the cartel crime scene in the desert with the DEA - Why? Coz they're sniffing too close and might discover him? 2. He holds the same milk and drinks as did Anton. Why? To conceal his finger prints? 3. Ed Tom tells his assistant in office that he will lie 'when he needs to'. Which is a strange admission from someone who should have integrity and uphold law. It is an admission that he is open to breaking the rules where he needs to. 3. He then proceeds to lie to Carla Jean in the cafe, and mentions to her the captive bolt pistol unnecessarily and revealing that he knows about the weapon, whereas he didn't suggest it earlier when speaking to his deputy about there being no bullet in the wound of one of the victims. 4. When all the shootout and chasing his happening between Chigurh, Llewelyn & Carson - the Sheriff Ed Tom seems to take absent leave from the screen/story. Was he twiddling his thumbs? It seems possible he was absent because he is Anton. 5. When he enters the crime scene at end looking for Chigurh who he sees in reflection of shot out lock behind the door, Chigurh isn't in there - this is the biggest hint that Ed Tom / Anton are the same. 6. Lewllyn had told Carla Jean on the phone to stay away from Sheriff Ed Tom. 7. Carla Jean tells Sheriff Ed Tom where Llewelyn his headed. Somehow Chigurh finds Llewelyn. Previously they showed how Chigurh located Llewelyn by phone records and by rego plate on truck, but this time they didn't show how Chigurh tracked Llewelyn down. This is because he found out when Carla Jean told his split personality Ed Tom. 8. When Carla Jean is confronted by Chigurh, she gazes down and says "I knew you were crazy when I saw you sitting there." She then gazes back up at Chigurh after she says this. It indicates she was referring to when she saw Ed Tom sitting in the cafe earlier, not referring to him as he was now. 9. Ed Toms first dream where he speaks of his father giving him some money that he thinks he then lost - is referring to his chasing the drug money Llewlyn had and that Cartels were after. But eventually he forgot about the money as the Chigurh personality was only employed to do things he couldn't do as Sheriff and he wasn't really ever after the money. 10. The 2nd dream was that he knew he was going to meet his father when he died, but was frightened to meet him because he doubted he would measure up to his father given the unlawful murderous activities he employed as Chigurh to try combat the Cartels.

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    1. Wow, holy shit. I can't say I agree with this theory, but it made for one hell of a compelling read. Seriously, great work here. Very thorough and investigative. I want to rewatch the movie with all of this in my head now.

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    2. I completely agree. The only thing that tripped me up is the first scene that we see Anton and he is gets arrested. Wouldnt the officer know that "Anton" was the sheriff?

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    3. And also how would you explain Anton breaking his arm and then the Ed Tom being fine in the next scene?

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    4. I'll be interested to hear Deep Phantom's response to that.

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    5. Some of this is interesting. I don't buy any of the theories that fighting the drug cartels is important to Ed Tom or Chigurh (who kills whoever gets in his way and/or who he holds accountable for being involved with the satchel).

      Also, Chigurh only held the milk jug; he didn't drink (check the level when Ed Tom arrives). Ed Tom poured into a glass and drank from that.

      Were it not for the role of fate in driving Anton, how he got to El Paso might be in question. But he is no lunatic (conversation between Ed Tom and El Paso Sheriff); Anton is logical, methodical, and particular. He asked Carson, "If the road you followed brought you to this, of what use was the road?" Anton never chooses the wrong road- his coin flips always work.

      The most compelling argument that DP missed in his split personality idea comes from Anton somehow successfully impersonating a cop at the beginning and the Ed Tom/El Paso Sheriff conversation: "Strolls right back into a crime scene. Now who would do such a thing?" Why a cop would!

      Ed Tom's police skills are mysteriously weak throughout the movie. Why could he not deduce from talking with the Sutton County sheriff that the weapon might be the air gun ("Sheriff, he had some sort of thing on him like a oxygen tank for emphysema or something, and a hose that run down his sleeve.") Also, would he not have checked in with the woman at the trailer park to see if anyone had been there? She could have easily given a description of Anton. Maybe she did and that would help the Theory 4 proponents have an image in Ed Tom's mind to go along with his fear.

      By the way, notice how firm that woman was with Anton. She stood her ground and didn't show fear, which defused Anton. Carla Jean also does well where Carson did not. Though they both said, "You don't have to do this," Carla Jean "admits [her] situation; there would be more dignity in it," where Carson did not. I thought it almost brought Anton to tears.

      The main difference between the three men in Carla Jean's life is her killer is the only one able to keep his word; the other two fail.

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    6. Interesting comments all!

      As an aside: "...notice how firm that woman was with Anton. She stood her ground and didn't show fear, which defused Anton."

      She was firm, yes, but would have gotten herself killed nonetheless had it not been for someone in the bathroom flushing the toilet at a most opportune moment.

      Thanks.

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    7. Yeah, I agree with you. I think he would've killed that woman if she was alone. But killing two people wasn't worth it to him.

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  18. I've always thought that it doesn't matter if he was in the room or not. Bell thinks hes a good cop (and a good man) but knows hes never had to prove it (hes never even had to draw his gun). By entering the room he faces his fear and proves himself, but ultimately he walks away feeling he failed as he just doesn't understand the whole mess and the world anymore.

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    1. Great point. It's definitely the scene where he fully tests himself. And ultimately, I suppose that's what's most important.

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  19. Anton works for Ed Tom.

    Ed Tom used him to wipe out as much of the drug trade as possible, not knowing how else to go about making his community safe from it.

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  20. Anton was hired by Ed Tom.

    Ed Tom used him to wipe out as much of the drug syndicate as possible, but he doesnt feel good about that at all. Doesnt know how else to keep his community safe. Why else would Anton waste the two managereal boys at the deal location. Why else waste the other manager guy who gave the mexicans the transponder at the officebuilding where Woody noticed one floor missing?

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    1. Very interesting theory. Can't say I agree with it, but it's interesting that you came up with that. So then... do you think Ed Tom is even looking for Anton in the scene mentioned in this post?

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    2. It is clear Ed Tom was looking for Anton, based on the conversation he had with El Paso Sheriff just before going back to the Desert Sands and also the conversation afterward with Ellis, where he asks what he would do if the man who shot him was released from prison. (Apparently, Ellis is Ed Tom's brother or uncle or brother in law).

      As an aside, I would say Anton is more closely related to Llewelyn than to Ed Tom. They both say "hold still" at the beginning. They both pay for clothing to cover their wounds at the end. Llewelyn's simple and ignorant greed is just as dangerous as Anton's killer instinct. The longer Llewelyn runs with the money, the more people die.

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  21. Definitely not Theory 3 for the reasons you propose.

    Not Theory 4 as there is no need for cinematography to capture Bell's fear – it has been real, not imagined, and building since he visited the desert OK Corral scene (“He seen the same things I've seen and it certainly made an impression on me.”). We know that Chigurh really does go back to crime scenes and Bell ponders this after El Paso Sheriff tells him about the Eagle Hotel. The three traits that make Chigurh seem supernatural are persistence, patience, and principle. Why didn't he just go to the Mexican hospital and kill Moss for the money or get him right at the border? He bides his time. He believes purely in fate and believes himself to be an inanimate object (“You pick the one right tool”; “I got here the same way the coin did.”). Moss and the money were right there but he went back for Man who hires Wells. He waited in the trailer. He waited in the mother's house for Carla Jean. He does whatever it takes to tie up all loose ends. His lying in wait at the Desert Sands at the end had this purpose – we just don't know which loose end this time. Anyone think there's a chance Chigurh was involved in the final showdown with Llewelyn?

    The only way Theory 1 is possible is if Chigurh is lying in wait in the dark half of the room – to the left of the door (not behind the door) or if he moved there from the right just before Bell pushed the door open. He could not have been lying in wait to the left due to the camera angle. And notice that the left curtain is partially open when Bell is standing inside (from the shadows on the wall- that curtain is obscured by the outside brick column). The proximity, tension, and circumstances just don't fit for this theory to be plausible.

    There are a couple of problems with variations of Theory 2. We have to assume that the satchel fit in the hotel room vent because you can see the scrape marks on the bottom of the vent (where the satchel was pushed in and pulled out). The tent pole trick is not in play in this scene because the location of this vent does not allow the case to be pushed to the adjacent Room 112 (when Bell sits down, he is facing 112 but the vent is over his left shoulder and close to the floor). And notice that the ductwork is a small round hole within a foot of the register, so the case could not have been pushed to the room behind 112 (in theory, Room 12, following the layout of the Del Rio Regal, though we can't assume that). The role of Room 112 is unknown to us.

    Though it can't be proven, it appears that Chigurh is lying in wait in 112 after having punched out the lock. My theory is he's waiting to see if the Mexicans return. He is looking down at the light coming through the lock at first, but then his gaze shifts to looking out the window directly at Bell. Chigurh is standing to the right of the door (from our perspective) looking down at the lock and out the window at Bell with the light coming in through a crack in the curtain and hitting his face. This gives Chigurh the opportunity to escape at any time because we can't assume that Bell ever investigates 112. It also makes the screenplay consistent with the book in that Chigurh “could” be lying in wait in the parking lot for Bell- a place other than where Bell is himself (in the room or coming out of the room). I am a little disappointed that he left the dime- that seems inconsistent with his character- but we needed it there to be sure Chigurh got the money.

    Notice there's no Room 113? Notice there are three unfired shells next to Llewelyn's right hand?

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    1. The fan theories this post still manages to produce (2+ years later) are fascinating to me. I've never even considered everything you posited here, but I found it absolutely fascinating. Thanks for sharing!

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    2. I just did a detailed look at that scene and want to change my Room 112 Theory 2. There are several discrepancies. If your screen has the resolution, you can clearly see the door hinge above Chigurh's head, so the door will swing toward him, as if he is standing against the wall in Room 114. So cinematically speaking, Chigurh is in 114 like we think he is before all this analysis. And it must be the light coming in from the open curtain in 114 hitting him in the face. Unfortunately, that light is not there at all once we get the view from inside the room.

      SO now I have to go with Theory 4 with Bell having a physical description of Chigurh from the woman at the trailer park to give him the mental image.

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    3. I just read the book. I wouldn't call it superior writing, but it was worth reading… only took about six hours. It fills in many holes in the movie. So it is clear that Chigurh was really there, though the Coen's may have wanted to depict him as imagined fear instead. There are actually many deviations from the book, both in concept and depiction. That's understandable. I'm glad I saw the movie first over two dozen times before reading the book. I would personally put the movie's depiction of this confrontation in the same goof category as the satchel being on the wrong side in the duct for Llewelyn to grab it from Room 38. No matter. It won't change the fact that I will probably watch the movie another two dozen times and will probably read the book again.

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  22. I have a question. There is an image at the top of this article, just below the title, which includes five film stills. The film still in the bottom left shows a close-up of a broken door lock. To the left of the broken lock there appears to be an object, like a sort of ribbon, catching light from the lock. Can anybody identify what this is? In all of the other shots in this scene there doesn't seem to be anything in the room directly in front of the lock so I'm puzzled as to what this is.

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    1. I always thought it was just a reflection off of the wall or the door. I mean, I think, right?

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  23. There is a fifth theory.

    Every scene after this depicts Bell being retired, discussing the end of his career, even having a dream where his dead father is had met him to build a fire in the woods.

    There is an intriguing, albeit unlikely, scenario where Bell never makes it out of that room. He notices the open vent grill and the immediate cutaway to the 'greener pastures' represents his death at the hands of Chigurh.

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  24. There is a fifth theory.

    Every scene after this depicts Bell being retired, discussing the end of his career, even having a dream where his dead father is had met him to build a fire in the woods.

    There is an intriguing, albeit unlikely, scenario where Bell never makes it out of that room. He notices the open vent grill and the immediate cutaway to the 'greener pastures' represents his death at the hands of Chigurh.

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    1. I dig this. Never thought about it this way before. Can't say I necessarily agree, but I dig your perspective.

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  25. In "The Making of 'No Country..." on YT the Ethan Coen states, "[...] kinda subverts the genre expectations too. It's kind of a chase, but the bad guy never actually catches up to the good guy."

    Doesn't that answer the "who got the money" question? One can extrapolate from Ethan's statement that Ant-on-Sugar does not get the money. The Mexicans did.

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    1. Oh, I've never really wondered about who got the money. With this essay, I was more concerned with where is Chigurh physically during this scene.

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    2. I think what Ethan Coen meant with that comment is that Chigur never takens down Bell. It's pretty clear he has the money when at the ending scene you see Chigur pulls out the 100 dollar bill to give to the kid for his shirt.

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    3. And if Chigur does have the money, I wonder what he does with it? He already killed his employer, so where did that money go?

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  26. Sorry about that.

    Cordially,
    b

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    1. No, no, don't apologize! Just wanted to clarify is all.

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  27. Thanks. As to where is Chigurh (in the film)? Well, I think Bell imagines what took place: Anton crouched behind the motel door whilst Moss chats with the girl by the pool.

    Moss opens the door (as Bell does later on), Anton steps out and shoots Moss precisely when the yelping Mexicans arrive. A shoot-out ensues and Moss and others are killed. Although Moss is lying on his back it's beyond my ken whether he was shot in the chest or in the back which is a critical, but unresolved (far as I know), factor.

    Llewelyn Moss: Just looking for what's coming...
    Poolside Woman: ***Yeah... But no one ever sees that coming... ***

    These words apply to every character in the film (except Carla Jean's mother). The obvious consternation on supra-humanly stealthy, resourceful Anton's face at Moss' unforeseen return corroborates the apothegm "No one ever sees what's coming."

    Could Chigurh's first miscalculation, followed by the car crash/unmolested witnesses, signal his eventual downfall? Does he begin to discern the awful silhouette of "what's coming" as he lurches down the lane?

    Best Regards,
    babette


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    1. Very interesting theories/question you posed here.

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  28. Thank you for taking the time to reply to the last little kid in Hamelin Town. (grin)

    I fear I shall forever flip-flop as to whether Chigurh is there, or retrieves the money, or kills the accountant, or if Bell is a coward/saint/poet or what-have-you and on and on.

    Does Moss' conscience compel him re. water (though he must have known the Mexican was dead)? Or is water merely an excuse and pocketing some packets for later sale the real motivation? Hmmm...

    It should be said that reading up on Gnosticism has helped me to savour NC all the more!

    I very much enjoyed reading all comments as well your excellent writing and analysis and I've begun to peruse your "Directors" which also promises to be fascinating.

    Keep up the fine work, Alex, and thanks again!

    Cordially,
    babette

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    1. Wow, thanks so much! I really appreciate you reading and lending such kind words here. One of the best things about No Country is not only that is presents all these questions, but that nearly 10 years later, so many of us are still talking about them.

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  29. I have seen this movie over fifty times. Favorite movie. 2016 and still going strong.
    This scene always got to me. Is he really in the room, where did he go. Never know.

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    1. Yep. Exactly. I think that's the point: we never really know.

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  30. I appreciate all the theories about such a great scene in a great movie however Anton IS in the room that Bell enters. Watch the scene and you'll notice that rooms 114 & 112 are mirrored. 114 swings open to the right, 112 to the left. When behind the door he is clearly looking down and to his left at the punched out lock which puts him at the crime scene in 114. This coupled with the fact that the door did not bounce back at all when Bell shoved it open. Anton is still behind the door and there is enough room for the door to open all the way and he may have vrabbed the knob to prevent any bounce back away from wall. He swiftly exits when Bell investigates the bathroom. This scenario is clearly foreshadowed in the previous scene when local sherriff speaks of Anton strolling right back into a crime scene "How do you defend against it?"

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    1. Very interesting. Loved your insight here. So hear's my question: why doesn't Anton just kill Bell? It seems like such an easy kill for him, comparatively.

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  31. I appreciate all the theories about such a great scene in a great movie however Anton IS in the room that Bell enters. Watch the scene and you'll notice that rooms 114 & 112 are mirrored. 114 swings open to the right, 112 to the left. When behind the door he is clearly looking down and to his left at the punched out lock which puts him at the crime scene in 114. This coupled with the fact that the door did not bounce back at all when Bell shoved it open. Anton is still behind the door and there is enough room for the door to open all the way and he may have vrabbed the knob to prevent any bounce back away from wall. He swiftly exits when Bell investigates the bathroom. This scenario is clearly foreshadowed in the previous scene when local sherriff speaks of Anton strolling right back into a crime scene "How do you defend against it?"

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  32. Hes not in 112. He looks to his left while standing behind the door, if he was in 112 he would be looking towards the back of the room while looking left

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    1. Hmmm, that's a valid perception right there.

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  33. he's behind the door. when ed tom enters he pushes the door rather hard but the door never hits the wall and doesn't swing back at all. if you watch the scene again, the door just kind of stops at one point, reason for this being that anton stops it. when you see the door stop you can see the distance between the corner of the wall and where the hinge of the door starts and there is enough room for a man. makes the scene scarier because you know that anton is there the whole time

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    1. There seems to be some weight to the door not fully swinging open. I never paid as much attention to that as I should've.

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    2. I just watched the scene again and you can hear the door slam against the wall. I also think its a bit implausible that he's behind the door being that Chigur is a pretty big guy, and not to mention he's holding a pretty big shotgun. If it was a little kid, I'd say that the "hiding behind the door" theory could hold, but for a bigger guy like Chigur I just don't see it happening.

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  34. It's been a while since I last saw this so can't be sure,but wasn't the first hotel room shootout in about the same room number location,or am I just imagining this? The scene stands out to me where Chigurh is slowly driving by each room listening for the tracking device to confirm exactly which one the money is in. And finally stopping directly in front of the one,with the camera also emphasizing the room number just as it did in the ending scene. Just thought i'd throw that out there.

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    1. I'm a tad confused by what you're saying. Those scenes you describe are actually two separate rooms in two separate cities. The first shootout is in Del Rio, the second one (where the scene in this essay takes place) is in El Paso. Moss no longer has the tracking device, as he discovered and left it behind in Eagle Pass. Tricky little film here.

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  35. For me, I concluded "we simply don't know" was the true ending.

    Throughout the movie, Chigur is referred to as a Ghost. Even the dying Mexican in the truck says "Ghost" when Llewelyn asks what he saw.

    The fact that Bell never see him, and that no one who, that gets in his way, sees him lives to tell it, sort of solidifies the mythical character that he is. Sure there's the convenience store clerk and the trailer park clerk but its arguable if they really "get in his way" or not. Or if it's the coin deciding their fate, etc. I don't think theres meant to be a real consistency about it, which makes him even more mysterious. Some people claim to see Ghosts.

    Even moreso, he persona is very Ghost-like. Silent weapons. Returning to the scene of a crime, like it was haunted by a ghost. Being able to walk around with a huge shotgun and oxygen tank, practically unnoticed by anyone at all. How he seems to be able to find everyone, no matter where they run to, and escape before anyone looking for him can find him. How he was able to blow up a car, and slip in and out of the pharmacy without anyone noticing him.

    I believe the ending scene is an injection of magical realism, in an otherwise extremely realistic and highly detailed movie. This is usually how magical realism is done in a lot of films. The fact we simply don't know what happened to him in the hotel room, as if he disappeared like a ghost, is what the Coen brothers were trying to do as we tie Chigur's character full circle as an almost mythical character.

    But at the end, even the Ghost can't escape powers outside of his control. The Irony of his question he asks Carson: "If the road you took led you here, what was the point of taking that road?" as the road he took led him to get hit by that car. Was it because he left the coin behind at the hotel? Was it because Sara Jane never called the coin? Did he break one of his own principals and thus altering his fate and making him human, vulnerable to the forces of nature?

    And yet maybe he still is a Ghost at the end of it all, where we think he is finally going to get caught, but he gives the kid a bill, and tells them "You didn't see anything"

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    1. Very interesting comment (as are the others you left here). I like the notion that the Coens went fill circle to make Chigur an almost mythical character. Ultimately, I'm satisfied with "we simply don't know." There's a lot of crazy, unexplained shit that happens in life, and Chigur is a manifestation of those kinds of things. I still love pondering over this damn movie.

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  36. Can't be Theory 2. Stop the movie when Bell pulls up to the motel room and you can clearly see that the lock on room 114 has been blown out and the lock on room 112 is still intact.

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